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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie #CharlieHebdo

Wars should be fought using words, argument, debate and then tentative agreement/consensus. This makes solid a democracy that is free. That is the real victory.

Freedom of speech and acceptance of difference shows that a society values everyone’s opinion. Freedom, Liberté, does not come from a gun pointing at those who use words and drawings to disagree with you.

  Strength is not putting a bullet in the head of someone lying on the ground with their hands held up, pleading for their lives.

Trying to redact words, censor philosophy with bullets from a Kalashnikov cannot and will not work. Fighting beliefs with violence will only breed violence. Understanding does not happen in the spilling the life-blood of your opponent.

View image on Twitter
All cartoons from HERE

Clearly those who carried the executions of journalists and cartoonists in Paris have issues. These issues have led them to, through a process, to come to the conclusion that perceived attacks on their belief – or their group belief by cartoonists or journalists justifies the ending of human life.

I have always found political/sectarian/religious murder difficult to understand. When a people are colonised and as a result of colonisation are violated and enslaved, uprising is inevitable. And uprising against an uncompromising oppressor – an exploiting invader - can result in violence. If this violence was borne in an attack on oppressors who had enslaved, violated, raped, killed as part of their oppression, then there could be a perceived justification. If the oppressor silences and ghettoizes a community, violence is inevitable eventually. There could be seen to be reason for defensive- even offensive - attacks. 

I really cannot see justifiable reasons for attacking journalists in this way – regardless of how much you disagree with them.

This murderous attack was carried out on those armed only by pencils, felt-tips and laptops. They disagreed with fundamentalism – all fundamentalism. Journalists and cartoonists – fathers, mothers and children - who had challenged the imposition of fundamentalism on their society by writing satirically about it and by drawing pictures that challenged the fundamentalist view of a ‘higher entity.’ But only challenged it if you chose to read it – and if your belief is so solid, why would a cartoon really challenge your uncompromising belief in your version – or your group version -of your God?

The individuals who ended these lives in Paris today are sons or daughters, fathers, husbands, lovers; complex individuals. What made them take such a simplistic, warped, black and white view of the world – ie. this is my God whom I love and who loves me, you insult my God, you are evil, I defend my God, I don’t recognise your humanity, I kill you?

I was brought up in Northern Ireland. I never took a black and white view of the community around me, why, I don’t know. But my best friend as a child was a Catholic (I was from the protestant/unionist community). My family were never strongly wedded to the Loyalist/unionist view, in that we never went to Orange Parades, we had little connection to the Orange Order, we didn’t attend a fundamentalist protestant church (and in fact were loose attendees to church) and some of my family voted on class lines – which usually meant voting for a party that was not their perceived religion etc. I always had Catholic friends and girlfriends and drank in “Catholic” pubs and loved to socialise across the border and never felt I was restricted to socialising in just protestant areas. 
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I did hear and know “fundamentalists” on both sides – their what I perceived as simplistic hatred puzzled me. People telling me that they were concerned about the spread of Catholics or the insistence that the land was Irish and not British was just odd to me and in fact I used to take the piss out of such odd thinking – to the extent I was attacked by people from both quarters on occasions (one attack came from a friends girlfriend who punched me repeatedly at a party after I had questioned an event in a way that challenged her black and white view and another by a guy who attacked me because I “shouldn’t be at this party…”). I recognised sectarianism and the sectarian nature of my country. I understood that my Catholic friends were much more likely to be unemployed and poor. I understood gerrymandering and censorship. But I never understood bombs in pubs, shootings in churches, construction workers being lined up and shot.  I never understood attacks on journalists like Martin O'Hagan, or those defending people in courts of law, like Rosemary Nelson or Pat Finucane or musicians and artists, like the Miami Showband. People who spoke. People who sang.  People who used words.

I had friends become “terrorists.” Two people I knew – I went to school with and drank with - committed one of the most horrendous crimes of the northern Irish Troubles- the shooting in a bar of a two friends one a Catholic and the other a Protestant. They then went on, in prison, to torture and kill another person involved in their group.

I really have no idea what could drive them to do such a thing. What they thought was so important – what cause – what insult – what slight to their group identity – that drove them to kill two peace loving friends, I really have no answer for. Narcissism is too simplistic. To easy. A wide term applied to a behaviour not fully investigated or analysed. But somewhere there was a disconnect with the humanity of the person on the other side of their automatic weapon.
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Why are all Palestinians not killers? Why weren't all of my Catholic friends killers? Why weren't all of my Loyalist friends’ killers? Why aren't all religious fundamentalists’ killers? Why are all of those people violated by others not terrorists? Why do all of those who have a grievance against someone not end up killing them?

Surely those oppressed but seek solution without vengeance are the strong?

Not all terrorists are someone else's freedom fighter.  Some are just terrorising and creating cycle upon cycle of violence against other sons, daughters, mothers, fathers.

In my opinion, those who seek dialogue, those who seek solutions, consensus - agreement – understanding -but who are confident enough to say, "accept me," are the real warriors - the real freedom fighters.

Those who seek to kill words and thoughts are not representative of any legitimate group or belief they claim to be part of. Those who redact, censor and crush ideas through force and murder ensure their place only in the history books. They have no place in a world that only grows and develops with nurture, love and understanding.

Je Suis Charlie.


  1. I admire your honesty and today you speak on behalf of many. My hope in peaceful cohabitation teeters on the brink -- today I have no words of my own.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Having spent 40 years travelleng in Islamic countries I can assure you they are just like us.
    If we were systematically politically and economicaly butalised for 1000 years you too would be pissed off, and given the number of bampots in all societies it cannot be surprising if some fight back.
    Until we stop blowing these (mainly innocent women and children) to bits we cannot hold any moral high ground.

  3. I totally agree. these deaths were awful, and totally unjustified. But how many writers, artists, dreamers, workers, mothers, fathers, children... died yesterday in Pakistan, Yemen, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine etc because of Western intervention? How many innocent lives have been lost since the West decided to carve up the middle east? How many since Blair and Bush, and previously, Major and Clinton decided to intervene in Iraq etc?

    Having lived through the Troubles, telling a family that your loved one died because someone in your society is oppressed is not comforting. There is a huge, wider problem. Charlie's cartoons were attacking in the context of French secularism. But that secularism could easily be read as targeting an already brutalized people. Context is lost when someone is from a community described as collateral damage or victims of "an acceptable level of violence." Context must be taught, but yes, much more importantly, the colonization of the Middle East must be halted and reversed. Our Western stability and "peace" is built on the corpses of children across the middle east and the enslavement of peoples across the world.

    Thanks for your comment.

  4. I am being told by French friends that the context of the cartoons were not racist, but I find it difficult to reconcile that sentiment with what i see. Context is everything - I think when you are within a society, it is difficult to contextualise outside it - I haven’t come to any conclusions yet - but I feel the cartoonists could not step outside the context of their French western secularism. They sat afar from the deaths and mayhem meted out by NATO and its allies in the middle east, thinking they were outside this. The history of western oppression and colonisation in the middle east, not least byu France, seems to have been lost on them. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternate perhaps cannot exist within borders in a globalised society? Perhaps real Liberte, Egalite, Fraternate
    Needs to be extended to those normally referrd to as collateral damage or victims of “an acceptable level of violence.” These are just ramblings. I am still working through this and appreciate feedback. Meanwhile, the view of a French woman:

  5. I dont normally comment so much on my own posts... but I asked permission for this posting from facebook to go here: "I agree with ... that it's a simply farcical notion that everyone should rally around the phrase 'Je suis Charlie'. I think if there are elements of that tabloid that people found offensive for their own reasons, whether it's marginalising communities or being religiously offensive.

    In France it's a tinderbox right now considering the issues surrounding the hijab that shouldn't exist, quite frankly. Let people wear what they want to wear, allow people to have religious expression. I find the notion that France wails on about free speech in this regard but has severe issues with religious expression devastatingly ironic. It almost makes you wonder if such a stupid, evil act like this would ever have been committed in the first place?

    At the end of the day, both sides have pulled dick moves on the other, this latest attack being an extremely abhorrant and indefensible move, but what I would point out is that it's extremely naive to think all progressive people are going to rally around a tabloid that has, at times. gone unnecessarily far in my opinion.

    It's definitely not the phrase for me either. Of course, I grieve as much as anyone else would that there are 12 innocent people dead for doing something I believe is necessary in a free society which is political and social satire. I grieve also that there are people out there now responsible for the deaths of 12 inoccent people, which is something they're going to have to live with for the rest of their lives. I grieve for the fact that there will be Muslims in France, and around the world, once again scared to walk their streets in case of reactionary violence.

    What I think Cat is calling for is, essentially, for people not to rally around sides in this situation, that we should still be able to step back and take the full context of what has happened in, in terms of France's social issues at the moment with respect to religion, as well as the escalating violence from extremists. I think there are normal, progressive steps France can certainly take to ease tension - but I fear that even something as paying religious respect to those who wish to practice their faith in the manner that they do will be seen as 'giving into the terrorists'."


  6. Speaking to Vanessa Cavalleri, a French woman on fb and she has been explaining the context of the cartoons that without context seem racist.

    She says, “It's actually very funny because all of the arts the "french woman" (really? She doesn't even sound like she knows the events portrayed on the drawings...) chose to illustrate her blog are all taken out of context... For example: the first one on the top left portrays Dieudonné. He's been convicted in France for racism and xenophobia (anti-semitism) and the Godfather of his daughter is Jean-Marie Le Pen. The covers mocks him and his "quenelle" (a racist gesture he tried to come up with). The middle one once again attacks the Front National, it reads "rassemblement bleu raciste" which refers to Marine Le Pen's movement "rassemblement bleu Marine"; the cover basically attacks the cover of the FN's journal which has been condemned for racism for saying Taubira (the woman on the pic) was "smart as a monkey" (in fench "maline comme un singe, elle retrouve la banane"). They call Le Pen's movement "blue racist" instead of "marine blue".

    I think people who weren't smart enough to understand the initial political context these drawings were made for actually misused them... So indeed, context is the key.”

    I asked: “Vanessa - a friend has pointed this out, " If a magazine can print a front cover where a naked black person is being walked like a dog by a white couple, I'm not associating with it. " What is the context in that cartoon?”

    She replied: you'd have to show me the cartoon and I'll explain the context. Very often, what they did was make a carricature of, for example, what the FN was saying they wanted etc. It's highly possible that picture was actually calling people's attention on an event rather than making an apology of racism.

    As it was said previously: it's political and journalistic satyre... It requires people to understand the context to grab the meaning of the drawings. Using the drawings alone and making them say something they didn't mean to say in the first place is just misinformed propaganda.

    Again, everyone is free to dislike the drawings in themselves. But I think there is a difference between disliking a drawing and actually interpreting it the wrong way just to make Charlie Hebdo look bad...

    I replied: Thanks Vanessa. I'm really trying to understand Charlie Hebdo - I had only been aquainted with them through an interview I watched of their editor/ cartoonist on al Jazeera a long time back. A professor on BBC talking about the magazine has just said what I have said on another thread that the magazine is a mix of Private Eye and Viz, both in order to read need context (though i am not in any way a fan of some of the stereotypes in Viz). I haven't though, seen anything from a muslim to say that charlie Hebdo was in any way a friend to their community yet. Though I have been watching Al Jazeera English and they have not as yet offered any criticism (that I have seen).

  7. She replied: @Neil: my pleasure, it's always interesting to chat and debate anyway. Well CH wasn't exactly a friend to anyone to be fair. They even had a fight with a former french president. The Pope wasn't pleased either. So yes, their caricatures weren't liked by any specific communities or political parties as they basically attacked everyone anytime a news event happened. That's how they work.

    Anyway, I'm not saying what they were doing was "good", I personally thought the artists were very insightful and funny (basically I like dark humor and politics and their stuff was spot on for me - of course, once you understand the political/journalistic context) but I sometimes disliked a few drawings (depending on one's sensitivity).

    I guess my stance here is just to say that it's very true they were incisive and sarcastic and sometimes borderline on the bad taste. But I admire the fact they résisted the islamists' death threats saying they'd continue carricaturing Mohammad, because we are allowed to laugh about anything and because the crime of blasphemy doesn't exist in our countries. I admire the fact they never stopped criticising, drawing, they were never taken down by the threats and they died keeping their opinions until the very end.

    Today when I say "Je suis Charlie", I mean I want to be able to freely laugh about anything. I want to be able to talk about anything I want. Nothing else. That sentence doesn't mean "muslims can be targetted", except maybe in the heads of nutjobs. Just as the coran doesn't say "cowardly kill people", except in the head of nutjobs

    It's been interesting to read all of your opinions guys. It's a bit "strange" to me because obviously as a french speaker and someone who was used to these artists (one of them was in a kids show) and this journal to read some of the comments, but it is always very interesting and éducative to see how non-french speakers see the problem.


Let me know what you think. Be kind!